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Arena Football Coaches and Coach Stories to Follow

Updated at Feb 12, 2024

There are many coaches to follow and know in the 2024 Arena season. Here are a few to keep an extra eye on heading into the 2024 AFL season.

The landscape of coaching in the AFL is complex, but you can easily pick out two distinct groups: "Established and Experienced" and "Up and Coming Talents."

Established and Experienced

This group of coaches is comprised of both tenured and proven coaches. These are the Sabans and the Belichicks of the world of Arena Football. They bring some extra legitimacy and help shape the landscape of the league.

Cedric Walker - Billings Outlaws

Walker has been coaching for nearly two decades, getting his start in the 2006 AF2 season with the Bakersfield Blitz as a defensive coordinator. That year, the Blitz gave up the second-fewest points in the league. This first year was not a fluke by any means; Walker-led defenses have historically been among the best in any given year. Walker’s magnum opus thus far has been his stint with the San Jose SabreCats. His defense was the AFL’s best from 2012–2015, with four consecutive players winning Defensive Player of the Year. His role as a defensive coordinator would continue until getting the head coaching job for the Wyoming Mustangs in 2022. Since then, he has pulled double duty as head coach and defensive coordinator.

Before coaching, Walker played professionally for ten years with a multitude of organizations. He holds a lifetime 614 tackles and 23 interceptions. It is very likely that the keenness for defensive play-calling he possesses has its roots in his own career.

Dean Cokinos - Nashville Kats

Dean Cokinos certainly has the most impressive coaching resumé in the league. Combined, Cokinos has 30 years of coaching experience and has held every position at every level of the game. His career is highlighted by two separate league championships and a 2013 Professional Indoor Football League (PIFL) Coach of the Year award. Cokinos also acted as an NFL scout for the Tennessee Titans for five years. It is safe to say that Cokinos has a wide reference point for what marks a successful team and what makes a talented player.

Chris Siegfried - West Texas Desert Hawks

Many coaches are stepping up to their roles and some are simply stepping into a new position, but Chris Siegfried might be taking a step down to become the Desert Hawks head coach. Siegfried has been the esteemed commissioner of the National Arena League for the past seven years. As commissioner, he fought to change the structure of the NAL –to return it to its former structure and glory. His goal was to bring the traditional rules of arena football, and he succeeded. The return of the “Ironman” and rebounds are at least partially thanks to him.

This will mark Siegfried’s first season coaching since 2012, so it is unclear what his first season back will look like while stepping into a strong program. In his role as commissioner, he spent a lot of time recruiting players to the league. He has a thorough, advanced knowledge of the rules and procedures, likely better than any coach in the league. So, it will be exciting to see the strategy and “gamesmanship” that he will employ.

Up and Coming Talent

These guys are fresh to the coaching scene or coming into their first head coaching job. Usually, former players, these guys are dipping their toes into the heated, complex world of a head coaching position.

E.J. Burt – Orlando Predators

E.J. Burt will be stepping into his first head coaching opportunity with an organization that he knows well. Burt has been the defensive coordinator for the Predators since 2019 and also spent six years of his playing career in Orlando, where he made the AFL All-Rookie team in 2003. Burt spent ten years playing both sides of the line, and he has put that knowledge into his recruiting. Lots of effort has gone into building the Predator trenches, which is where Burt's game plan will start.

The expectations are definitely ones of improvement. The Predators have had playoff berths in the past few years but failed to capitalize on the opportunities. Burt is ready to exceed any expectations that may have been placed on him and the team by making some of his own.

“I’m trying to bring back the culture that we had before. We’re known to be one of the top most-feared organizations in the AFL, and my goal is to bring that back, bring a championship back, and keep it as continued success. I don’t want this to be a one-year deal.” -E.J. Burt (via Shady Sports Network)

Clinton Solomon – Wichita Regulators

Solomon had a simply amazing playing career. He spent most of his college career as a WR for the Iowa Hawkeyes. After going undrafted in 2006, he signed with multiple NFL teams from 2006-2007. He was eventually led to the world of arena football, where he played for about a decade.

Solomon only just finished his playing career in 2017. He went off with a bang, winning both the CIF Championship and CIF Offensive Player of the Year. Since then, he has been dormant in regards to football. This will be his first time in a coaching position, and there is no indication of how he is going to tackle this role and this season.

Gary Thomas – Southwest Kansas Storm

Gary Thomas is looking to take his shot at the AFL after a five year hiatus from football. Thomas was the head coach at Dodge City Community College from 2013-2018 before stepping down to pursue other interests.. During his tenure, he won two Jayhawk Conference Coach of the Year awards and won Dodge City their first conference championship in 32 years.

The Storm went a solemn 3-7 last season, but this sets Thomas right in his wheelhouse. His first Coach of the Year award came in his first season at Dodge City. The Conquistadors had only won six games in their previous five seasons, but a major turnaround had them finish at a triumphant 6-4. Two years later, Thomas secured them a conference championship. Storm fans can surely be immediately optimistic about the arrival of Gary Thomas.

When asked about the biggest transition to the Arena Game, Thomas said, "In all honesty, not that much. Football is football. Arena just has a few less players on the field, and some restrictions which limit diversity in your scheme. The concepts in the run and pass game and the techniques involved are the same as outdoor football. The biggest challenge will be the timing and spacing in the pass game, and getting our quarterbacks and wide receivers on the same page. "

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